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Art Market Watch

Dealers were cautious but positive in their assessment of the eighth International Asian Art Fair, Mar. 28-Apr. 2, 2003, the blue-ribbon event installed at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue by the London-based fair authorities Brian and Anna Haughton. "It's been a very nice fair for us," said London dealer Linda Wrigglesworth, who specializes in finely embroidered court costumes and accessories that range in price from $2,000 to $100,000. "Most buyers have been very deliberate rather than whimsical -- people were using their 'wisdom mind'."

Fifty-four dealers participated in the annual exposition, one more than last year, when the events of 9/11 bumped it from the armory to a tent across town in Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center. Plenty of celebrities and high-profile Asian art fans made an appearance at the fair, ranging from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke (who is also Asia Society board chairman) to radio talk-show host Howard Stern and actor Matt Dillon. The opening night gala raised $500,000 for Asia Society.

One highlight at the sculpture-filled booth of London dealer John Eskenazi was a large 10th-century pink sandstone statue of Mahavir, the fifth-century founder of the monastic Jain religion. In a pose of deep mediation, Mahavir -- the cosmic soul -- sits upon a cushion supported by two lions, surrounded by a circus of figures and mythical animals and surmounted by two elephants pouring milk from vases held in their trunks. The price is $350,000. "I'm waiting for a few collectors and museums to make their decision," Eskenazi said on the final day of the fair. "I expect them to come in and squeeze me a little more."

Among the exhibitors were a substantial number of dealers in contemporary art, including Plum Blossoms (Hong Kong, Singapore and New York), China 2000 Fine Art (New York) and Goedhuis Contemporary (New York and London). New York dealer Joan B. Mirviss sold out her stock of contemporary ceramics by Kato Yasukage, which range in price from $300 to $8,500. Martha Sutherland, who opened her eponymous gallery on East 80th Street in Manhattan last September, featured semi-abstract landscapes in gold acrylic by Jia Youfu (b. 1942) and exquisitely detailed ink-on-paper landscapes of mountain and sea by Hisa I-fu (b. 1925).

Perhaps the most popular artist at Lawrence of Beijing, who specializes in contemporary painting from mainland China, is Wei Rong, a 41-year-old Chinese woman who specializes in surreal Photo Realist works that combine historical photographic images with contemporary ones. Her prices range from $4,000 to $50,000. "The fair has been better than I expected," said Lawrence Wu. "But people haggle too much!" Wu also complained that he was unable to get a visa for his assistant, and had to do everything himself. "I can't function," he said.

Other sales reported by fair organizers include a pair of Tang Dynasty prancing horses at Berwald Oriental Art (London) for around $180,000; a collection of three sculptures by the Taiwanese contemporary artist Li Chen at Goedhuis Contemporary for a total of $150,000; a 17th-century Chinese Huanghuali wood altar table at Andy Hei, Ltd. (Hong Kong), for $400,000; several works on paper from the Kishangarh region in India at Francesca Galloway (London), for prices between $10,000 and $50,000; and an opaque watercolor in gold and silver, Prince Smoking Huggah, ca. 1760, at Terence McInerney (New York) for $75,000. Among the buyers was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which acquired a celadon plate from Blitz Chinese Ceramics (Amsterdam).
-- Walter Robinson